When an Evaluation is Necessary in Determining Custody

Child custody can be the most complicated aspect of divorces. In some cases, the parties may not be able to reach a custody agreement or the parties may not know what is best for their children under their particular circumstances. There are often situations where a parent may suffer from drug or alcohol addiction or mental health issues. Other times, the parents just cannot agree. When the child’s lives are at stake and the parents cannot agree, a true custody dispute exists. In cases where a true custody dispute exists, the court may authorize a child custody evaluation to assist in the disposition of the custody issue. A child custody evaluation is a detailed analysis typically conducted by a mental health professional trained in reviewing and assessing family situations. These experts will conduct several assessments involving the parents and the children as well, depending on their age. The purpose of a child custody evaluation is to assess the personality and cognitive functioning of the person being examined to assist the court in making a determination that is in the best interest of the child. When the evaluation pertains to a parent, the assessment is conducted in the context of examining parenting attributes, including skills, deficits, values, and tendencies.

Under New Jersey Court Rules, the Family Part court specifically is authorized, on its own motion, to appoint medical, psychological, or social experts to assist in the disposition of an issue before it, and to require any person under its jurisdiction to submit to examination by such an expert. 

Most child custody evaluations involve separate interviews between the expert and each spouse; interviews between the expert and the child; and a meeting where the expert can observe each parent and their relationships and interactions with their children, either in the parent’s home or in the evaluator’s office. Many times, the expert may want to interview individuals who are closely involved in the parent’s or children’s lives such teachers, doctors, family members, friends, mental health professional, etc.

Upon completion of the evaluation, the expert will draft a formal report with a recommendation as to what he/she perceives to be the best arrangement for the children and the parents. Once a report is furnished, the Court will review the report and try to determine what custodial arrangement will best meet the child’s best interests. The Court’s will give a great deal of weight to any expert report it receives, especially if the Court appointed the expert who prepared the report. In addition to the report, the court is required to examine, at a minimum, the following fourteen factors listed in N.J.S. 9:2-4:

  1. The parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;
  2. The parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse;
  3. The interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings;
  4. The history of domestic violence, if any;
  5. The safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent;
  6. The preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision;
  7. The needs of the child;
  8. The stability of the home environment offered;
  9. The quality and continuity of the child’s education;
  10. The fitness of the parents;
  11. The geographical proximity of the parents’ homes;
  12. The extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation;
  13. The parents’ employment responsibilities; and
  14. The age and number of the children.

With over twenty-nine years of experience in child custody cases, our office has dealt with hundreds of child custody evaluations and resolutions.  We have worked with many different experts. If you are interested in learning more about your options regarding a custody evaluation or custody dispute, please contact Helfand & Associates today for a free ½ half consultation at 973-428-0800 or through our website at www.tanyahelfand.com.